Coming-of-age in early 1950's Philadelphia, with mystical shadings--as a teenager yearns to become a snazzy magician. . .and finds himself possessed of unearthly powers, torn between rival gurus and contrasting philosophies. Eliot Appleman, 15, is thrilled to become a member of the Sorcerer's Apprentices, a club for young amateur magicians--some of whom, like awesomely suave Stephen Blake, are already skilled, flashy showmen. He also meets magic-shopowner Max Falkoner, an enigmatic, taciturn figure--who sells Eliot disappointingly humdrum tricks yet continues to fascinate him. And Eliot, obsessed by magic and mystery (what happened to the club's founder, a beauty named Irene Angel?), stumbles through his apprenticeship in likable, hapless, familiar fashion. Then, however, everything changes--when Eliot, in the midst of a disastrous card-trick performance for his father's pinochle crowd, discovers an intense telepathic power: he can read minds--instantly, completely, at will! This miracle is exciting, of course, especially when Eliot uses his power to defeat boorish bullies. But Eliot's telepathy has its dark side, too: he reads not just minds but emotions, with often-devastating results; he is tempted to use his ""gift"" in selfish ways (in a fumbling sex-episode with a pretty cousin, for example) that sicken him. And this internal conflict escalates as the Sorcerers' annual magic-show approaches: slick guru Blake urges Eliot to exploit his telepathy to the full, suppressing the emotional side-effects. . .while unprepossessing Max curtly advises Eliot to do a sleight-of-hand act that requires only concentration, confidence, and endless hours of rigorous practice. Needleman, a scholar of religion and philosphy (Lost Christianity, etc.), never quite endows Eliot's choices and conflicts here with lucid thematic force--despite a closing mini-lecture that attempts to sum up such issues as ego, temptation, remorse, the ""rule of conscience,"" and ""the peace that passes understanding."" Still, if the philosophy remains murky, the more down-to-earth specifics--the adolescent embarrassments, the club rivalry and camaraderie, the magic-shop ambiance--are disarming and vivid. And at its best, this engaging mixture of nostalgia and spookiness is reminiscent of Ray Bradbury (without the stylishness) and Stephen King (without the horror).